Well, I went white water rafting for the 2nd and 3rd times in the last 3 months in my life. This was the first time on a natural river.
Searching for a location that was challenging and close to home directed us to Ohiopyle PA and the Lower Youghiogheny River. Not to spoil the ending but it was awesome. Folks on the East Coast always hear about West Virginia or the Ocoee River as hotbeds of white water rafting but this location was great. It's about 75 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. This area is rather remote and there are not a lot of lodging options.
Hotel - Lodging
We opted to stay at the Summit Inn. A historic hotel that was nice and definitely old school. The hotel was quiet and the food was awesome. The only issue we had was that wifi is only available in the lobby so no in-room surfing. All in all a great location and wonderful hotel. The staff was very professional, helpful and made the stay for my son and I enjoyable. The hotel is also pet friendly. Check with the hotel but I believe they allow up to one 50 lb. dog / pet in your room.
The rafting company we selected was the White Water Adventurers. There are five companies that service the river and all are about the same in price and offerings. We selected the mid-level difficulty trip which was the Lower Youghiogheny River trip. There is an upper river trip which is extremely tame and family friendly. One of the guides joked that he thought sections of that river went up hill.
The trips go off at designated times during the day as you are in a group of rafts with a group of guides. All the rafting companies share a parking lot and transportation from the lot to the river entry point. The lot is about 5 minutes outside of the small town of Ohiopyle. The times of the trips are staggered so that each company can use the busses and entry point before the next crew shows up.
You need to make reservations either on-line or at the store in town, They were not able to accept reservations or payment at the check in booth on the lot. We reserved the Friday 10:30 am trip and arrived early for check in and only waited a few minutes. There are changing rooms and rest rooms to use while you wait and after you return from your trip. Showers are there as well.
At 10:30 am we received a brief safety demonstration and got our personal flotation devices and helmets on and boarded the bus.
After the 5-10 minute bus trip to the river's entrance in town we received a more thorough briefing, our paddles and raft assignments. As it was only my son and I, we were paired up with another family to fill out our raft. Each raft has up to 6 people (maybe 7 with a guide).
After you're briefing and assignment you carry your raft about 200 - 300 yards down into the water and load up. After everyone is loaded you paddle across the river for instructions on navigating the first set of rapids. And then you are off.Depending on the water level there are two options for the guides. If it is low or normal (which it was for us) then there are 4-5 guides in kayaks and rubber kayaks (duckies) that float with you and guide you down the river. If the river is high then there is a guide in each raft. There is also a guide in the all important lunch raft.
This trip has level III and IV rapids and was challenging for us. Essentially on the river you have rapids and calm eddies after each section, so you get in a cadence of congregating in an eddy for instructions and directions on navigating the next rapids. Everyone goes through the rapids and then regroups for the next rapids and directions. There are also 3 sections along the river where the calm area is longer and you can get out and swim. Cold, cold cold but you actually work up a sweat so it does feel good.
After the first rapids they take your picture going through and have them available for purchase when you get back to the parking area.The guides were excellent, patient and knowledgeable about the river and white water rafting. The first day (Friday we had 6 rafts and the second day Sunday we had 16 rafts). As you can imagine for the guides it amounted to herding cats getting all 16 rafts down the river safely. On the Sunday trip we had 1 raft of inexperienced rafters /swimmers that abandoned after the entrance rapids. After the first rapids I don't think you can abandon as you get further into the state park and really can't turn back. On the second day we actually overturned the entire raft and all of us where catapulted into the water quickly. Without warning we were all in the water which was a little scary. Once I located my son I was fine, but did bounce along the rocks for some time. Another raft rescued us and we regrouped and remounted our raft.
Nose and Toes up — is a key mantra and important. The water is fast and the risk of getting your feet stuck on a bottom rock or log is real. The only way to avoid that is to not try and stand up and to float down river feet first until someone can rescue you.Our trip lasted a little over 4 hours on Friday (30 min stopped for lunch) and 4.5 hours on Sunday.
You will paddle and you will get wet. You're in a rubber raft with water coming over the top as you go through the rapids and waves. Depending on your experience level, and the ability of your boat mates to row together, you may dump in the water.
- Try and have an even number in your raft. Even numbers seem to make it easier for balancing and rowing.
- If you want a special sandwich or something for lunch pack it your self and give it the Lunch Raft guide and they will put it in the cooler and distribute it when you get the lunch spot. That's what we did and worked out well for my son and his new braces.
- Go during the week if possible even in the summer as you have few rafts and flow of your group is better
- The weekend trip was busy and we did wait longer between each rapid for the group to regroup and start again.
All and all a great experience and wonderful active time. Highly Recommend it.